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A Tempest of Lies
Copyright A Strange Geek, 2010
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Story codes: MF, Mf, Ff, fsolo, Mdom, toys, bd, magic, oral
Across the ocean from the former D'ronstaq Manor, the day was already underway in the Urisi Nation. Amanda had been shown Bessa's copy of the map once more before she was sent on her journey to the Oceanus fleet. These events surely would have distracted Jollis from his own preparations as dawn broke across the indigo waters which isolated him from the truth.
Jollis was preparing for death. Much time had passed since he had last felt the need. Even the mission to discover the horrible secret which lay buried outside the Manor had not prompted him to perform this ritual. He was not planning to die and hoped to avoid it, but whenever his task itself involved death, the chance existed that it would be visited upon him.
He had done the same before his very first "hunting" mission, when he had assassinated the brother of Fenric Z'haas, the previous emperor of Oceanus, and -- unknowingly at the time -- triggered Z'haas' spiral into paranoia and madness. As then, he had risen before first light, stripped himself naked, and sat cross-legged and unmoving on the hard floor next to his bed, deep in meditation.
Even in this state, his thoughts were troubled. Through this ritual, he asked the gods to understand the reasons behind his task and to protect him if they felt his cause was just. In times past, he was already convinced he was in the right. But now "right" was such a nebulous concept that he could not offer his own convictions as evidence of having chosen the right path. There were only varying degrees of injustice and no clear and "right" answer.
Many times Jollis felt the gods as a tangible presence, radiating a warm glory in his mind, a sign his path was blessed. He felt nothing but scrutiny now, as if the gods were a tribunal, silently judging him from behind a dark veil. He had the odd sense they were waiting, intent to watch the events unfold and then decide, as if they themselves had little insight into the future.
Long and orange rays streamed in through a window behind him as dawn gave way to sunrise. Jollis felt the gentle warmth on his neck and brought himself out of his meditative state. Within a few breaths, his eyes opened, and he rose to his feet. He stood in the sunlight for another few moments, taking slow, deep breaths to keep his mind calm. He was only partially successful. This was the first time he anticipated he might not survive the hunt.
He turned towards his bed and gathered his clothes. He wanted to be away before his Cohorts found him. They were loyal, and he trusted them implicitly, but he did not want them to know of his mission. Now they could say they had no idea of Jollis' intentions and thus would not be cited as accomplices.
Jollis already had a task for them, delivered in the form of a parchment scroll he had placed in their quarters during the night. It told them to find a way to protect Mage Verano from the plans of the Oceanus Mages. It pained him to give such orders, as part of him demanded Verano pay for his crimes as well, but he considered the larger picture.
He contemplated Amanda as he gazed into the beams of sunlight. All he could do was hope she was safe and her suffering minimal. He wondered what Amanda would think if he did indeed die that day. He hoped she would care, even if only to think the world was better without him. It was better than no thought at all.
Once Jollis was dressed, he paused for one final prayer, this time to the goddess. He crept from his quarters as quietly as the breeze.
The fork was halfway to Tarras' mouth, the white-gold bit of fried egg upon it glistening, when he flicked his gaze across the table and said, "I do hope a fair price was paid for these eggs and everything else in this repast."
Rennis uttered a short sigh as he tore off a piece of bread. "This is hardly a repast as you put it."
Tarras watched as Frenon served the last plate, his own, and sat at the table. He had prepared a single egg for each, a few small slabs of pork, half a loaf of bread, and a gourd of fruit juice, all arranged around a rickety table next to an ancient brick stove.
"Nevertheless, Rennis--" Tarras began, putting down his fork.
"We paid as fair a price as our limited finances would allow," Rennis said. "But we did pay."
"I would say the peasants felt they were justly compensated, my Lord," said Frenon in a mild voice.
Tarras was still getting used to that title again. He realized soon after giving his speech that the title was his until death. He much preferred it over Emperor Apparent, as he had overheard a few of the former Nobles suggest later that day. He still held out hope for Duric; if anyone would be open to Tarras' proposal for such a radical change in Oceanus society, it would be him.
He looked at Frenon. The man seemed more relaxed now. Perhaps the speech had affected him as well. Tarras had not had the courage to ask yet.
Tarras allowed himself to enjoy the meal, though the look on Rennis' face kept his pace slow. "Is something the matter?"
"That is hard to say, to be honest," said Rennis. "I may have heard news of Gedric."
"There is little you can say which will affect me," Tarras said in a flat voice. "I have resigned myself to the likelihood of his capture by the Inonni. It is why it is important for us to go our separate ways for awhile, so that--"
"There may be some sort of escape being planned."
Tarras' fork clinked to his plate. "When did you hear this? And from whom?"
"Uridon contacted me late last night. You were already asleep."
"And what did he say?"
Rennis finished chewing a bite of bread as quickly as he could before he spoke again. "He emphasized it may be nothing, and he got the information second hand from other merchants."
"Merchants are quite well known for preserving information intact when they relay it between themselves," said Frenon.
"Yes, I know that!" Rennis snapped. "But even Uridon said it came from a less than reliable source. There are several merchant clans who operate outside the normal Guilds. A Urisi Guild clan claimed to have overheard something said in a bar by a Guildless merchant from the Ollo clan. He was rather drunk at the time and going on about having made some sweet deal with someone in the Urisi government to spirit away a man and a girl."
Tarras tilted his head. "Spirit away?"
"As in escape."
"I do not believe the merchant clans deal in human cargo," Tarras said. "Clans will grant passage for someone only if he can pay his way, usually via labor for the clan."
"As I said, the Ollo clan is not part of the Guild. They're likely black marketeers or privateers."
"Granted, but what makes him think the man would be Gedric?"
"Because this particular clan is based on a tiny strip of beach located just to the south of the port where the rogue Oceanus fleet is docked."
Tarras straightened in his chair. "Then who is the girl?"
"I can only guess. Maybe Amanda."
"Amanda? Roquan's slave girl you told me about?"
"Yes. It would be just like her to be mixed up in something like this."
Tarras considered. Frenon ate his meal in silence, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two high-born men. "That is a bit of a stretch," Tarras said. "I would even go so far to say that assuming the man is Gedric is a stretch as well."
"Nevertheless, Uridon thinks it bears watching," said Rennis. "He's paying some other clans to keep an eye on the situation. I trust his judgment in this matter."
Tarras frowned. "Has he not already paid a rather generous sum for this sort of surveillance work?"
Rennis stabbed a piece of pork and took a bite before replying. "He did hint he was close to going into debt, yes."
"Clan Leader Uridon should be careful," Frenon said. "His own clan could choose to unseat him as Clan Leader if they learn his personal finances are wrecked."
"I've told him that," Rennis said. "But he feels this is important."
"Perhaps you and the former Lords and Ladies can find a way to send him more platinum," said Tarras.
Rennis put down his fork and narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"I am sure some have more funds squirreled away somewhere. It would be very much like them to--"
"No, I mean your reference to 'you' instead of 'we.'"
"We've been over this before," Tarras said in a weary voice. "Unless I have evidence to the contrary, I will assume the Inonni will have Gedric before long. Anyone who is in my general vicinity is in danger if they decide to take me."
Rennis looked as though he would protest but uttered a frustrated sigh and banged a fist on the table. Frenon's hand shot out and caught the gourd of fruit juice before it could tip over.
"But if Uridon is right, and somehow Gedric is rescued from this fate," Tarras said in a slightly pained voice. "And we have proof he is free, then I can return into your midst."
"You have to. I've said this time and time again. You're their leader whether you like it or not."
"I know," Tarras said in a quiet voice.
"You mean you've finally acknowledged it?"
Frenon looked at Tarras with rapt interest.
"Yes," Tarras said. "You will hear no more protests from me on that point. My concern is for the safety of everyone else. Of my people, if that term pleases you. But I will be their leader under one condition."
Rennis gave him a wary look.
Tarras returned it with an earnest one of his own. "That you remain and help us carry on into the future."
Rennis' eyes widened.
"I remember what you had said when we first arrived here. You wanted no part of the future because you felt you had no use. I don't believe that. You could serve as my counsel, throwing things in my face until I am finally forced to look at them and understand their importance." His lips twitched into a tiny smile. "Like my leadership role. I suspect you acted the part of the 'loyal opposition' to Roquan for a time."
Rennis looked stunned, both at Tarras' insight and the memories of a more uncomplicated time.
"That is my condition," said Tarras, drawing himself up in his seat. A small smile crossed Frenon's lips, as if now satisfied Tarras was once more acting the part of a proper Noble Lord.
Rennis sighed and leaned back. "You can be a right bastard sometimes, Tarras, you know that, right?"
Frenon raised an eyebrow. Tarras simply chuckled.
"All right. I'll stick around. To be honest, I'd likely get bored in retirement."
Tarras smiled, perhaps the first time he felt like smiling in a great while.
Uroddus walked slowly around the Portal device, its surging energies sparkling against his spectacles. A breeze ruffled his hair and carried the smell of rain as the clouds grew leaden overhead.
Q'kollan rocked on his heels a short distance back. He let out first a relieved sigh when the Guildmaster finished his circuit, then one of frustration as he started another. "Guildmaster, with all due respect--"
"This is fascinating work," said Uroddus as if he had not heard his advisor. "I am most impressed by what has been accomplished in such a short time."
"There is still much work to be done," said Q'kollan, his eyes darting from the Guildmaster to the Portal device when the energies began to spin faster. "And it is not yet stable. I would recommend keeping a safe--"
"One moment, one moment!" a young Mage cried as he leapt past Q'kollan, startling him. Uroddus watched as the somewhat wild-eyed Mage thrust an odd-shaped crystal towards the heart of the device. His eyes narrowed in concentration as he slowly twisted the crystal. The energies settled into a steadier, if still slightly faster, rhythm.
"There," the Mage said, tucking the crystal into his robes. "Should be good for a bit now."
Q'kollan opened his mouth to protest, but the Mage had already dashed off. He shook his head and turned back to Uroddus. "Do you see what I mean? They have to keep doing things like that day and night."
"Understandable," said the Guildmaster as he continued his second circuit. "I believe I am safe for the time being."
"I also consider what might happen were the Inonni to discover your presence here."
"Reasonable precautions are in place." Uroddus withdrew a blue pearl from his robe. "This is a focus for a Portal back at the Guild Hall which remains powered while I am here. I can summon it in moments."
Q'kollan nodded but did not look mollified.
"How long until we are ready?" Uroddus asked.
"Mage Q'yoona tells me at least two more days, possibly three." Q'kollan gave the Portal device another wary look. "Which is why they are not bothering to completely stabilize it. There is no point if the intent is to destroy the thing."
"So this Portal will also be destroyed?"
"Yes, when the energies circle back to the origin point. I am told this one will be the largest of the explosions. The intent is to trigger the effect and immediately leave."
Uroddus stopped as he neared the end of his second circuit. "They cannot trigger it remotely?"
"The timing is going to be very slim."
"Yes, I know." Q'kollan paused. When he spoke again, his voice was lower and more somber, almost lost in the constant thrumming of the device. "A number of older Mages have secretly submitted their names to me as volunteers to trigger it. They believe whoever starts this may die in the attempt."
The Guildmaster frowned and approached Q'kollan. "I do not wish anyone to die. That includes the people who will be caught in the Portal explosions, though I have little control over that."
"And they would not know how to trigger it properly, either," said a new voice above the din.
Both Uroddus and Q'kollan turned as Katla joined them. Uroddus tilted his head in concern. Katla looked pale, even in the golden light of the device. "I've already settled this," she said, her voice quavering. "I'm going to set it off."
Katla glanced at Uroddus. At first it seemed he did not react until she saw his face had tensed.
"I'm the one who understands these theories the best," Katla continued into the uneasy silence. "It only makes sense."
"Katla," Uroddus finally said in a low and almost forlorn voice.
"I don't intend to die," Katla declared. "I fully intend to get out in time. But someone has to be here to start it, and that should be me."
The thrumming of the Portal suddenly surged. Katla reached into her pocket and yanked out a crystal similar to the one the other Mage had used. "And now you see why it can't be done remotely," she said as she twisted the crystal and the energies settled once more. "This thing will require constant tending as the energies build up towards release. We're already pumping more power through this thing than I think it's ever handled before."
"And how can you be sure it will not blow up in your face before then simply from wearing out?" Q'kollan said.
Katla withdrew the crystal and dropped it into her pocket. "Because I finally found a record of when this thing was last serviced. It was a long time ago, but the Mage who did it was Q'yros."
Uroddus nodded once, and Q'kollan reluctantly followed. Q'kollan wondered if people venerated Q'yros too much. Yes, he was very skilled and quite powerful, but he was a man, and men had their limits. Yet he did not dare try to convince the Guildmaster of that.
Uroddus stepped forward. "Master Q'kollan, I will no longer tax your patience. I will head back to the Guild Hall now that I have had a progress report. And Katla ..."
He paused. Katla gave him a pleading look which said not now, not here.
"I will see you tonight," Uroddus said in a low voice.
Katla swallowed hard and nodded as Uroddus passed her. She turned away before Q'kollan could catch her eye and placed the summoned portal between herself and him.
When Jollis had last stood before the Elder, he had been struck by how much of an ordinary man Yurton had seemed. But this time, when Jollis had a mission he did not want yet must succeed, Yurton seemed bigger than life itself, looming even as he parted the curtain with a swift sweep of his arm.
Jollis had been fortunate the guards still allowed him entry without hesitation. If they had not, his mission would have ended there. He was not prepared to take on two highly trained warriors alerted to his presence. His only chance of survival was to take them as they entered the building.
For the first time in a long while, Jollis faced a task with some nervousness. He dropped to one knee to give the traditional prayer and used the moment to calm himself and force remaining distractions from his mind.
"I accept your honored blessing," said Yurton.
Was there an edge to his voice, or did Jollis imagine it? He knew the Elder was likely displeased at Jollis' failure to retrieve Marlon. He had been concerned Yurton would summon him before he was ready, and just the act of summoning would have placed the guards on a hair-trigger alert.
"Now, rise, and face me as my equal."
Jollis could have done it at that moment. As he rose to his feet, he could have easily pistoned his hand into Yurton's jaw while his other hand wrenched Yurton's neck. The snap would be quick and clean, and Yurton would be dead before his body struck the floor. By then Jollis would be in a defensive stance to face the warriors when they surged inside.
Yet Jollis did not feel comfortable carrying out punishment until he was sure Yurton deserved it. He had to be absolutely sure this man had perpetrated the betrayal of all his people had held dear.
As he stood, the Elder spoke first. "I trust you are here to discuss the matter of your failed task?"
Failed task. Jollis did not believe those words had been chosen on a whim. It set the tone of the whole discussion. He resolved not to be defensive, as that may give the Elder a clue as to his true intentions. "Yes, Elder, that has been very much on my mind."
Yurton folded his hands across his belly and gave Jollis a small smile. "You can be rest assured I will direct Verano to allow you another chance of success."
Jollis felt anger boil up inside him, but he quelled it quickly. He needed his thoughts to remain clear and unemotional. "My reasons for why I do not believe such a task will meet with success still stand, Elder."
"Nevertheless, this task is so critical to our success that you will make the attempt."
Orders. Dictating. Jollis told himself this was not the way the Holy Order was supposed to act. He wished he knew whether he was dealing with a single tumor or if this were a spreading cancer among the whole Order.
As if sensing Jollis was not acting in the role expected of him, Yurton issued another smile and said in a more relaxed voice, "But I will hear your misgivings, Honored Wanderer, for I wish you to have a clear conscience."
Jollis nodded once but wanted to direct the conversation down another path. "My difficulties lie with the goals themselves which we wish to achieve."
Yurton paused. Jollis' eyes remained trained on the Elder, looking for any sign of a gesture which may signal the warriors to enter. "In what way, Wanderer?"
"We wish to extend the hand of friendship to the Rogue Mages. I do not see how kidnapping their leader will lead to the desired outcome."
Yurton gave Jollis an ingratiating smile. "It seems we keep coming back to this. You recall the words I gave you last time?"
To Jollis, Yurton's tone suggested the Elder's words were a commodity, or treasures to be kept and cherished. "Yes, Elder."
"Then you need to understand that nothing has changed. We are still on a difficult path to Enlightenment for Oceanus."
More words without meaning, and a sign the Elder was growing impatient. Jollis steeled himself. The moment would be quite soon. "And yet this is what troubles me, Elder: the very path itself."
Yurton paused again. "In what way?"
Jollis thought he heard as much challenge as curiosity in the Elder's statement. "I do not feel this path represents the intent of Enlightenment."
Jollis again had to calm himself. He had made a statement tantamount to telling the Order they were wrong, that they did not understand their own teachings.
And yet Yurton's smile grew wider. "This is expected, Honored Wanderer. Sometimes, it can be difficult to see we are indeed heading towards the goals we have set before us."
"But the goals cannot be pursued at all costs."
One of Yurton's eyebrows rose slightly. "And what costs would those be?"
"The lives of those we seek to bring to our side."
Another pause, the longest by far. Jollis scrutinized the Elder, but he did not appear to make any odd moves. Everything but Yurton's face suggested he was stunned by this statement. He finally let out a slow sigh and said, "I must insist you explain that statement."
That was most definitely a direct order, one which was expected to be obeyed. Jollis felt a surge of rebelliousness, a desire not to answer, even though this was exactly where he had wished the conversation would lead. "I speak of the unnecessary deaths of several Rogue Mages at the hands of Mage Verano."
Yurton's face grew hard, yet his hands did not move, nor did his eyes flit towards the door and the protection of the warriors outside. "Then the rumors I have heard are indeed true, that you have engaged in a task outside the bounds of the Manor which you were forbidden to do."
Jollis understood the tactic and had gained enough resolve not to fall to it. He did admit to a small amount of guilt, an automatic reaction, like a child doing something he knows he should not and being confronted by a respected parent.
He was also not surprised the Elder knew. It had not been a well-conceived plan, but it had been all he could have done. "Yes, Elder," Jollis said in an even voice, though he injected some regret to placate the Elder and allay any further suspicion. He lowered his gaze to enhance the illusion. "I regret I felt I had to do such a thing, but it was important for me to know the truth."
The Elder turned away and took a step, and Jollis was forced to raise his eyes to continue tracking his quarry. He kept his ears trained to the door, and tensed in case he needed to turn to meet them. Yet nothing happened other than a short sigh from the Elder before he finally turned to face Jollis. Only now he was standing out of reach of any quick attack Jollis could make. "This changes nothing."
Jollis stared, too shocked to do otherwise.
"This only emphasizes what I told you before. Enlightenment did not come easy to us, and will not come easy to Oceanus. We cannot eliminate all strife. We must accept certain sacrifices."
"But many of the Mages who lost their lives wished to help us," Jollis continued, careful not to raise his voice.
"Many for platinum, I am told."
"That matters not. Even the merchant is paid, and we do not quibble over that, nor do we consider killing him to--"
"That is enough," Yurton declared.
Jollis was forced to lower his gaze once more to allay suspicion, though he felt nothing like guilt any longer. All remaining doubt had vanished, but it had little to do with the gods. They may yet strike him down, and he did not care. He finally realized he had to follow his own heart and not anyone's teachings.
His eyes blurred with unshed tears as he thought once more of Amanda.
"It is not for you to question this any further. Unless you intend to question a millennium of Enlightened existence in Inonnus."
Jollis' heart clenched, but not for the reasons Yurton would think had he known.
"You must trust I know the ... that the Holy Order knows the way."
Jollis' heart leapt. He had noticed the quickness of Yurton's voice when he made the correction. Was it possible Yurton was indeed acting on his own, and that the rest of the Holy Order was not soiled by his beliefs?
And yet the experiments on the Portals continued in the other Manors. Jollis was excising only this one tumor. Many others likely remained.
Jollis refocused his thoughts. His reasons must remain pure. He was acting now solely in response to the deaths of the Rogue Mages, the Elder's callous attitude towards Amanda, and the Elder's corrupted view of Enlightenment. The Portals would have to wait. That was a separate battle to be waged on a separate battlefield.
And the Oceanus Mages might reach that battlefield first and lift the burden from his shoulders.
"Yes, Elder, I understand," Jollis said in a pious voice, lowering his gaze further. The lies came to him easily. He knew the path he must tread now.
The Elder let out what Jollis interpreted as a sigh of relief. Yurton's guard was lowered. "Wanderer, you are quite troubled. Mage Verano was the same way when he was tasked with the same burden."
"So you indeed gave him the orders concerning the Rogue Mages, Honored Elder?"
"Yes. It was difficult, but he did as I expected of him, and he has furthered the goal of Enlightenment as much as I could hope. It is the same I ask of you. No more and no less."
"Yes, Elder, I understand." Jollis paused, and let out a heartfelt sigh. "May I be so bold as to ask for a blessing?"
"Of course you may, my Wanderer," said the Elder in a soft, almost jovial voice.
Jollis dropped to one knee and bowed his head. He heard the robes of the Elder swish as he stepped forward.
"Honored Wanderer," began Yurton. "I present you to the gods as a wayward spirit, pure of heart and mind, who wishes to return to the true path. I beseech them to--"
His head snapped back from a blow to the chin. He did not have time to consider what had happened, nor to taste the blood from his tongue as it was caught by his teeth. Jollis' arm struck across his face, the other positioned on the opposite side of his neck. The break was clean and almost quiet. The life had already left the Elder's eyes as he began his collapse to the floor.
Jollis whirled around. The first warrior was through the door before the Elder's body had completely fallen. A few well-aimed kicks, and the warrior's staff flew to the other side of the room.
But the second had been prepared for this disarming attack, and the warrior's staff struck Jollis hard against his side. Jollis heard both the impact and the cracking of his own rib. His preparations had steeled him against the pain, and a solid kick to the warrior's chest sent him flying back.
The first warrior had recovered his weapon and back-flipped over the dead body of the Elder. Jollis dodged the first attack, and his head swam when the second struck him along the side of the head. By now, the other had recovered, and both advanced on him.
Jollis was ready. He had expected he would die. His actions warranted an immediate death sentence at the hands of these warriors. He closed his eyes and lay his arms at his sides. His last thought was of Amanda, and a silent plea to the gods to protect her not from the Urisi, but from his fellow Inonni.
Jollis heard a burst of movement from the door, and then a brilliant crimson light flashed against his eyelids. Jollis' eyes snapped open in time to see the fading glow of combat magic as the warriors slammed into the wall on either side of him before they slumped to the floor.
Jollis blinked and stared.
"I trust you are unharmed?" said Mage Verano as he lowered his hands.
Jollis glanced at the warriors beside him. They were both alive but unconscious. He stepped forward, barely noticing his cracked rib. "You knew what I was going to do," he said in a bemused voice.
"You did what I did not have the courage to do myself." Verano let out a slow sigh and looked at the body of the Elder. "But I am just as guilty as he. You should ... you should kill me as well. I will not resist."
Jollis stepped forward and shook his head. "No. You have too important a task: to make it safe to use the memories of one person to direct a Portal."
"My task is already tainted by blood!" Verano cried. "How can I build on that?!"
"You must. It is imperative."
"Why? What does it matter anymore? Do we know if we have set the right goals before us?"
Jollis had no answer. He stared at the body of the Elder. He had been under no illusion that this one death would set his people back on the right path, but some small part him had held out hope just the same. He was no longer sure if they were using Amanda to the right aims.
He reminded himself that he had to fight one battle at a time. He had won this one and needed to prepare himself for the next. Somehow, he had to weather this tempest of lies to see the sunlight of truth on the other side.
He turned back to Verano. The man who Jollis originally wanted to kill now seemed more pitiable than guilty. "The answers will come in time. Your personal goal was noble if the means to accomplish it were not. You are freed from the one who set you on the path of blood."
"Unless another of the Holy Order decides otherwise."
"Please, do not worry about such things. You must persevere." Jollis paused. "A very important life depends upon it."
"A life important to you."
The words were spoken with no ill intent. In fact, Jollis thought he had detected sympathy. He realized he was never going to shed his feelings for Amanda, nor could he pretend any longer that they would lead him to the greater goals of Enlightenment. "Yes, Honored Mage," said Jollis, speaking the title in sincerity for the first time in a long while. "A life important to me."
Verano nodded once. "You need to get away, Jollis. It will not be long before other warriors arrive when they notice Yurton's guards are absent."
"Yes, I will leave, but I need to tell you something first. I need to warn you. You must stay away from the Portal in this Manor for the next quarter moon."
Verano stared. "I beg your pardon?" he said in a nervous voice.
"Let me be forthright, Mage Verano: I know of the secret Portal research designed to give us the knowledge to open transdimensional portals."
Verano's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. His eyes glistened with renewed fear.
"I am not fighting that battle today," said Jollis. "But I must warn you there is a danger."
"What sort of danger?"
"I cannot tell you, I am sorry. But if you remain away from the Portal for a quarter moon, it will be safe once more."
Verano heaved a sigh. "Without the Order directing me, I suppose I have an excuse to delay further work. But this is the not the only location where--"
"Regardless, please do not go near the Portal for a quarter moon."
"Should I tell the others to--?"
"Absolutely not. Tell no one. Issue no warnings. Two Cohorts, Rolas and Hurus, are tasked with assisting your flight to safety. You must do this. You must swear you will do as I say."
Still wide-eyed with fear, Verano nodded.
"I will leave now," Jollis said as he approached the door. Pain from his rib lanced into him, but it did nothing to break his stride. "You are free to tell the others whatever you wish about me. I care nothing about my own fate."
"I do not envy your life after this, Jollis."
Jollis smiled. "I am the Wanderer. It is both name and title. I will be fine. I thank you for allowing me the chance to meet my next battle, wherever it will be."
Jollis dashed out of the building. By the time Verano rushed to the door and saw the advancing phalanx of warriors, Jollis had vanished into the thick underbrush behind Yurton's quarters.
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